This month’s NEW ON NAXOSspotlight is on BBC Proms conductor Marin Alsop, who is on two new releases. The first album is the latest installment in our highly-acclaimed series of Sergey Prokofiev’s Symphonies, featuring the Sixth Symphony, Op. 111 coupled with the Waltz Suite, Op. 110, performed by the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra. On the second release, Marin directs the Peabody Symphony in the world première recording of Pulitzer prize-winning composer Kevin Puts’ Symphony No. 2.
Other highlights include Maximilian Steinberg’s Passion Week, performed by The Clarion Choir and conductor Steven Fox – the same group that gave this lost masterpiece its first public reading in 2014; guitar works by Fernando Sor, recorded by renowned artists Norbert Kraft and Jeffrey McFadden; the final release in Benjamin Frith’s critically-acclaimed series of John Field’s piano works. He is ably supported by the Northern Sinfonia under David Haslam (Concerto No. 7) and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted by Andrew Mogrelia (Irish Concerto); the continuation of Eugene Zádor’s orchestral works series, including several world première recordings, performed by the Budapest Symphony Orchestra MÁV led by conductor Mariusz Smolij; Volume 2 of the Michael Haydn Symphonies cycle where Patrick Gallois conducts the Czech Chamber Philharmonic Pardubice; and The Intimacy of Creativity – Five Year Retrospective, celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, featuring performances by the Hong Kong Philharmonic, various soloists and conducted by Pulitzer prize-nominated Chinese composer Bright Sheng.
Prokofiev started work on his Sixth Symphony in 1945 and, unlike the victorious mood of the Fifth (Naxos 8.573029) it reveals a darker response to war and its consequences. The work was condemned by the ‘Zhdanov decree’ but composer and critics regarded the symphony highly, the noble yet anguished threnody of its central Largo balanced by the painful violence of the outer movements. The work’s ending has been described as “one of the most shattering in the repertoire”. With themes both capricious and sensuous, the Waltz Suite recycles material from earlier scores to create a remarkably effective quasi-symphonic entity.
Awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2012, Kevin Puts now stands in the forefront of contemporary American composers. His powerfully conceived Symphony No. 2 is a musical illustration of the events of 9/11 and traces a movement from unsuspecting bliss and rhapsody through violent upheaval to a reflective epilogue that contains both uncertainty and hope. Possibly inspired by thoughts of the Mississippi, River’s Rush employs novel harmonies, while elegant transparency distinguishes the refined beauty of the Flute Concerto.
Passion Week is a long-lost choral masterpiece composed by Rimsky-Korsakov’s favourite student, heir apparent and son-in-law, Maximilian Steinberg. A product of his interest in the sacred and mystical, it is a tour de force of the systematic use of medieval Church Slavonic chant melodies and shares with Rachmaninov’s All-Night Vigil the colourful use of choral textures. Steinberg’s settings are complex and rich, with a diverse and sometimes daring harmonic palette, offering eleven movements of distinctive and expressive content that reveal an artist’s search for identity at a time of increasing hostility to religion.
Fernando Sor was not only one of the great guitarists of his era but a major composer for the instrument, described by a contemporary critic as ‘the Beethoven of the guitar’. His desire for the guitar to represent a miniature orchestra in timbre is a distinctive feature of his many compositions. The 24 Progressive Lessons, Op. 31 offer a panoramic lexicon for the student, moving from a simple waltz to perpetual motion, whilst the charming Six Little Pieces, Op. 32 further explore technical efficiency and musical expressiveness.
Dublin-born prodigy John Field enjoyed a wide reputation and great popularity. He was renowned as a soloist for his delicacy of nuance and as a composer for his cultivation of that most poetic of forms, the nocturne. His Piano Concertos were eagerly anticipated and the première of the Concerto No. 7 in Paris on Christmas Day 1832 was attended by both Chopin and Liszt. Ingeniously structured in two movements, its Rondo finale evokes the ballroom and Russia in a series of constant contrasts. The Irish Concerto is a reworking of the first movement of Field’s Piano Concerto No. 2in A flat major. Piano Concertos No. 1-4 can be heard on 8.553770 and 8.553771.
Eugene Zádor’s long and productive career brought him success on both sides of the Atlantic, his music admired for its assured orchestration, confident mastery of form and unstoppable flow of melodic invention. The Christmas Overture captures both the festivity and solemnity of the season, while the iconic portraits of the Biblical Triptych form one of Zádor’s most ambitious and colourful orchestral works. The Rhapsody is filled with distinctive Hungarian flavours, and the Fugue Fantasia concludes this programme with majestic triumph.
Johann Michael Haydn’s music has inevitably been overshadowed by that of his elder brother Franz Joseph, but his music represents some of the best features of 18th century classicism. These four Sinfonias span just over a decade, from the graceful combination of elegance and liveliness in the Sinfonia in D, the muted violins in the Adagietto affettuoso of the Sinfonia in E flat, the lovely sicilienne of the Sinfonia in B flat to the substantial Sinfonia in F, which features a solo violin and cor anglais playing together or in alternation. Volume 1 of this series can be heard on Naxos 8.573497.
This celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology features an exciting range of music, from the string orchestra version of Schönberg’s Verklärte Nacht to a sequence of invigorating contemporary scores. They provide a perfect opportunity to showcase the individual and collective talents of the distinguished principals of the Hong Kong Philharmonic orchestra. Two works, by Ming-Hsiu Yen and Matthew Tommasini, focus on Hong Kong’s landscape, whether majestically natural or manically urban, and the selection ends with Arvo Pärt’s modern classic, Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten.
Ralph Vaughan Williams composed in a wide variety of genres, and film music became a significant part of his output in the latter decades of a long and distinguished career. He viewed film scores as more than just ephemera, seeking to “intensify the spirit of the whole” in wartime productions such as the defiantly anti-Nazi 49th Parallel and Coastal Command, in which the graceful romance of sea-planes sends the spirits soaring. The haunting and evocative atmosphere of The Flemish Farm contrasts with Three Portraits that evoke the first Elizabethan age and announce the springtime of the second.
Composed in London, Spohr’s Second Symphony was received with real enthusiasm at its première, the audience responding to the work’s tasteful Haydnesque flourishes, wide emotional palette and delightful writing for wind instruments. Written in 1850, a year after the re-imposition of authoritarian rule in Germany, Symphony No. 9 ‘The Seasons’ is no mere programmatic work but a symbolic journey from the winter darkness of political oppression through the ‘Garden of Eden’ imagery of Spring, and the vibrant colours of Summer, ending with Autumn whose positive finale is a celebration of the composer’s belief in the political rebirth of Germany.
Though the origin of Bach’s sonatas for flute and harpsichord is uncertain there has also been considerable debate about their genre. The first three are often called ‘Sonaten auf Concertenart’ – sonatas in concerto style – a hybrid genre that became popular between around 1720 and 1740, so Bach may have been deliberately experimenting with form in these works. The Sonata in E flat major, BWV 1031, with its lovely siciliano, is perhaps the most popular of the flute sonatas, holding a special place in the repertory, but all offer a fascinating insight into Bach’s use of the sonata genre and a wealth of inventive music.
In the early part of his musical career, before he became one of the most revered conductors of his time, Bruno Walter saw himself as a conductor composer much like his friend and rôle model, Gustav Mahler. His large-scale Piano Quintet, couched in the late-Romantic idiom, is a powerful expression of Walter’s consummate compositional skill. The Violin Sonata in A major, Walter’s last chamber work, offers a study in expressive contrasts, its unsettled moods reflective of the time in which it was written.
William Mathias was one of the foremost British composers of the 20th century and one of the very few of his generation from Wales who established an international reputation. The lively Christmas sequences Ave Rex and Salvator Mundi contrast with the splendour and tenderness of the rarely-performed anthem An Admonition to Rulers. Also included are the joyful Wassail Carol, the popular organ solo Toccata Giocosa, and première recordings of All thy works shall praise thee and The Lord’s Prayer – respectively the composer’s first and last choral works.
Winner of the 2015 Tárrega Guitar Competition, João Carlos Victor brings us a captivating and imaginative programme with numerous transcriptions of his own and a première recording of music dedicated to him with Paulo Rios Filho’s dramatic Répéter. The music of John Dowland stands at the heart of this album, the mystery and melancholy of his chromatic fantasias providing moments of reflection between the theatricality of Rodrigo’s Invocación y Danza, Tárrega’s luminous mazurkas, and Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s brightly neo-classical Sonata.
A celebrated student of Beethoven, virtuoso pianist Ferdinand Ries established an innovative technical approach to the interpretation of the fortepiano. The decade he spent in London (1813-24) was his most successful. The majority of the variation sets, fantasies and rondos on this recording were composed then. The emergence of the new square pianos created a hunger for domestic music-making and Ries responded with catchy variations on popular themes and technically challenging fantasias that gave full rein to his musical imagination. They add another dimension to the appreciation of the man Robert Schumann praised for his ‘remarkable originality’.
Expressive allure and refined originality are the hallmarks of much of Alexander Scriabin’s piano music. Miniatures such as the Feuillets d’album (album leaves) and the Impromptus, draw on examples by composers including Chopin, Schumann and Tchaikovsky. The Fantaisie, Op. 28 is notable for its brooding opening, melodic abundance and virtuoso style, while the Opus 51 and 56 collections create a multiplicity of moods. The great Soviet pianist Sviatoslav Richter regarded Scriabin’s music as ‘a poetical drug’, and contemporary commentators described it as ‘full of fancy, delight and beauty’. The first of this two-volume collection can be heard on Naxos 8.573527.
Peter Scott Lewis is based in San Francisco, and his deeply expressive music is much in demand across the world. Performed here by renowned artists, The Four Cycles collects his complete vocal music to date. Where the Heart Is Pure depicts the natural world around the Skagit River in Washington State where the poet Robert Sund, a close friend of the composer, made his home. Themes of light and love are embraced by the rich sonorities of a vocal quartet, while the Three Songs From Ish River examine the history of the Pacific Northwest.
One of Spain’s finest and most popular composers, Joaquín Rodrigo is world famous for his Concierto de Aranjuez. His songs for voice and guitar are very much less well-known despite the fact that they are amongst his greatest achievements. They span 60 years of his career, covering a rich stylistic range that includes traditional and folk-influenced pieces and carols as well as the lyric intimacy of the settings of Con Antonio Machado. The lovely transcriptions by guitarist Marco Socías, recorded for the first time, have earned the approval of the composer’s daughter.